What Einstein And The A-Bomb Letters Can Teach You About Values



“A human being is part of the whole, called by us The Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest- a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Albert Einstein,


The Universe to Albert was more than the cold math and physics behind it that he understood so deeply. It was also a place for humans to love each other and all living things.

Einstein valued human compassion.

He wrote a letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt warning that the US should consider creating an atomic bomb since the technology was being developed in opposing Nazi Germany. In this letter, Albert describes to FDR that E. Fermi and L. Szilard are researching uranium that can cause a chain reaction used for very destructive bombs in Germany. Additionally, Canada can supply the US with uranium, to counter the threat.

After the explosion of the atom bomb in August 1945, Hiroshima

FDR thanked Albert, but no construction on atomic warheads began until two years later when the US started the Manhattan Project.

Atomic bombs weren’t used by the US until the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki of 1945.

If Einstein valued human compassion, how could he have suggested the development of the same weapons used in this atrocity?

Years after the attack on Japan, Albert wrote this about the bombs:

“I was well aware of the dreadful danger for all mankind if these experiments would succeed. But the probability that the Germans might work on that very problem with a good chance of success prompted me to take that step [writing FDR, suggesting an American A-bomb]. I did not see any other way out, although I always was a convinced pacifist. To kill in wartime, it seems to me, is in no ways better than common murder.” 1952

(See full letters here)

Sometimes, it seems, even one of the brightest humans chooses between evils, despite his pacifistic values

Was it wrong for Albert to suggest this? He acted within his values. He believed that it was in humanity’s best interest to stalemate Germany. He believed that wartime killing was murder, a position many common people that describe themselves as ‘supporting our troops’ oppose. This position was- and still is- radical to many.

“Our task must be to free ourselves from this [personal] prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures”

Your personal prison is hard to escape from. It’s difficult to expand your circle of compassion, especially when you’re stuck on something in the past that may be making you feel bad today. We all get stuck on something, and that’s okay. We all have 75 years, give or take, to make our impression on the Earth – or the Universe if you’re bold.

You can start to break from your prison by first assessing the walls, what confines you. What makes up the barrier between your conscious mind and the reality that surrounds you? The brick and mortar have been placed during your time here, events have made the walls thicker, some have made them thinner. You might even be able to see outside, but through textured glass making the images outside blurry.

Patience, and self-acceptance. You won’t go anywhere if frustration is your fuel.

Start to study your self, the glass you’re seeing through, the bricks around you. Only you can see them, and only you know what they’re made of, although others can help you tear them down (sometimes it’ll make you feel uncomfortable).

Inside your cell, you have boundaries called beliefs. They represent the acceptance of something as either true or false. They are convictions, together we call them codes or creeds. In reality, outside the cell, your beliefs (as well as anyone else’s) may be true or false. These beliefs start out as attitudes and self-verified by individual experience.

Sometimes these walls are passed down from one generation to the next. Humans aren’t necessarily aware of how their beliefs interrelate, or how this set of ideas and feelings causes actions.

We have three types of beliefs;

  • Evaluative Beliefs
    • A judgment about good and bad.
    • “Abortion is wrong.” or “An eye for an eye is justified.”
  • Encouraged or Prohibitive Beliefs
    • A perception of things that should and shouldn’t be done.
    • “We shouldn’t eat animals.” or “Children should be spanked.”
  • Descriptive or Existential beliefs 
    • Can be proven to be true or false.
    • “9/11 was an inside job.” or “The Earth orbits the sun.”

Aside from beliefs, values are the freely chosen standards and ideas that an individual or group holds. These values are like little directions that help us make decisions. However, they are abstract and only a representation of what is right and wrong.

What are your values?

You can assess your values, clarify their meaning to you.

  • Are you sure that this value is your own? Did you choose it yourself?
  • Who first taught me this value? Where did I learn it?
  • What are the alternative values? Which appeal to me, why?
  • Are there consequences if I act according to this value? Is there a ‘price’?
  • Does this fit with my other values? Are there inconsistencies?
  • Am I proud of it? Am I willing to speak out for it?

“Everything we do, every decision we make and course of action we take is based on our consciously and unconsciously chosen beliefs, attitudes, and values.”

Diann B. Uustal  1985



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